Boveda’s 2-way humidity control products have become a staple in the tobacco, food, music and cannabis industries. As the company celebrates its 20th anniversary, Tobacco Business interviewed its president and CEO Sean Knutsen and its executive vice president of sales, Tim Swail and discussed a variety of topics including their partnership, Boveda’s longevity and what drives the company today.
You both rely on one another to run Boveda, but at what point did you realize you needed to expand the team and hire new people?
Knutsen: We knew from the beginning that we needed to expand the team. We did it slowly but surely. We hired people and got rid of people who weren’t as efficient as we needed them to be. Slowly we learned over time that when you hire the best and pay them very well, then you can start building that momentum because the productivity and the quality of their work starts to pay dividends, and it no longer becomes an expense. When you hire the right people, you really get a return on investment.
Swail: And we can’t underestimate in the very beginning the nucleus of the partnership, and as Sean talked about, the culture. Our partnership just works. A lot of this gets focused on Sean and myself because we’re the face of the company, and we’re the ones who do the traveling and are doing the general running of the business, vision and strategy.
When you look at it and all of the skill sets that each of the partners had, it was a good team from the very beginning and set the foundation for us to be able to succeed. You’ve got Albert Saari, who was a chemist and the senior food formulation chemist for General Mills, Sean’s abilities as CEO to manage people in an organization and then my specialty being on the sales side. Bob [Robert] Esse, one of the co-inventors of the Boveda technology, is 84 years old. He is phenomenal and needs to get some recognition as well. He was a senior-level packaging engineer at General Mills Food Corporation. He comes into the office three to four days a week, runs Boveda’s innovation department, and he is not only a prolific packaging engineer with many patents under his belt but is also—just as a human being—an incredible person.
Here we are, 20 years later, and the culture and the ability for us to all work together and to make things happen is really a special thing. Sean and I are so blessed that we were able to be part of founding Boveda and putting this team together.
How has Boveda remained at the top of the humidity control industry, fending off other companies that have emerged with similar products? How have you remained the go-to brand for these humidification packs and products?
Swail: The key things in my opinion are the education part, the content and getting influencers in each of those markets to help build the momentum from a marketing standpoint to help build on the branding. We’ve spent a lot of our time on these things as a strategy.
Knutsen: What is essentially important is being the first brand to introduce a product. The first brand to win that mindshare of the customer is usually the leading brand. When you do that and continually do the right thing without fumbling the football, it is difficult—if not impossible—to overtake that No. 1 position. It’s an uphill battle. Rarely is there room for a third brand to legitimately compete in any given product category.
You typically only have one brand that dominates and a distant second brand that’s a “me-too” type of company that just tries to ride those coat tails of that leading brand. We focus on what Boveda can do that’s unique [and] different than anybody else. We will do everything we can to be first in that market and first in the mind to build that market and then work our tails off to continue to maintain that leadership.
After 20 years of building this organization and company, what motivates you today? What fuels the company and keeps you all so excited and optimistic?
Knutsen: Early on a lot of people said, “What are you still doing in that business? Why are you still trying to make it work?” That happened a lot, not with immediate family but extended family. It also was asked by friends and people who knew us. Early on, we recognized we had an opportunity here, even if it was taking longer than we thought. The feeling now is that we’re very, very happy with where things are at right now with Boveda.
As we sit back and we think about it, it’s like, “Wow, we’re doing it. Wait, we’ve done it!” The thing is that we’re not stopping here. The vision that we set for ourselves and for Boveda as a whole is very grandiose, but we believe in what we have here and what we can still achieve.
We spend a big percentage of our time working—too much time for it not to be deeply meaningful. I would say that Tim, myself, Bob and everyone else here finds a deep meaning in the work that they do here. That’s really what it’s all about. Life is really about those types of things and not serving the almighty dollar. It’s about doing the right thing, and it’s about accomplishing something during your day that brings true value to the life of your fellow man.
We’re still looking forward and not back. We’ve still got a long way to go to get to where we want to go. It’s unbelievably exciting knowing that the ideas and patents in our innovation department right now can change the face of our whole company more than what the initial patents have created for us so far.
You can read part 1 of this feature story here.
This story first appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.
– Story by Antoine Reid. Photos by Colin Michael Simmons